by David Allender
Jury selection is complete, the day ended with seven jurors empanelled.
During jury selection, prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Paul Atterbury asked prospective jurors if they had read about the case on NewsMax or in articles by Nat Helms. None said they had. (Interestingly, no one was asked if they read Time magazine.)
The jurors are all higher ranks than Lieutenant Grayson, a colonel, four lieutenant colonels, a major and a captain.
Opening statements start tomorrow.
Lieutenant Grayson has his wife and family on hand to lend support. I can only imagine their fear when the judge announced that the charges (three false official statements, two obstructing justice and two attempted fraudulent discharge) added up to a possible 30 years confinement.
There are expected to be some 34 witnesses called and the case is supposed to conclude by the end of next Tuesday.
Colonel Gregory Watt (of the Watt Investigation) is on the witness list and is scheduled to appear. So is Major Jeffrey Dinsmore and other 3/1 Marines who ordered Staff Sergeant Laughner to delete his photographs. I can’t help but recall the words of the Investigating Officer at Lieutenant Grayson’s Article 32 who noted, “I would have expected everyone in that battalion would have been charged and obviously that didn’t happen.”
Long day with opening statements and three witnesses (three out of 34–this trial could go longer than expected). Tomorrow the start time is 7:30.
SSgt Laughner’s testimony was as puzzling as the entire prosecution’s case. Laughner claimed he had never heard of the order not to keep pictures of dead Iraqi civilians on his personal computer. He said he downloaded 38 images of the 70 or so he had taken that day. And none of the pictures he downloaded were of the detained insurgents. This supported Lt Grayson’s assessment that the pictures had no intelligence value.
Laughner got quite a few questions from members of the panel. He admitted to using a program called Windows Washer on his laptop when he got home from Iraq. His testimony about why he used it seemed a little hinky, I have a feeling this will come up again before the trial is over.
Laughner also admitted that he has not been granted full immunity, and that NCIS had threatened him with charges on four counts (including mishandling classified info and reports on his personal computer) and false official statements. Laughner claimed he couldn’t remember the other two threatened charges, and also claimed he lied so that investigators wouldn’t take his laptop as evidence.
Finally, Laughner admitted that he never sent the photos or a written report up the command chain. He did say he wrote an MFR a couple of days later, without photos, but no one seems to have found it. The only written report from HET was prepared by SSgt LeeSentano. He sent what is called a detainee target package (regarding the one detainee that Sentano had brought back after the battle that was of HET interest), and even that didn’t contain a single one of Laughner’s photos.
SSgt Sentano was the second witness. Sentano is one of those smart, quiet guys who spoke very well about intelligence procedures. Bolstering Lt Grayson’s defense, Senteno testified that he also told Laughner to delete the photos because of policy.
I didn’t get much from the third witness testimony, a Marine named Reyna (a radio operator at Haditha dam).
Tomorrow’s first witness is Colonel Gregory Watt. Should be a doozy.
Quote of the day: “Lieutenant Grayson is nothing more than a fall guy in a botched investigation under intense media pressure.” Major William A. Santmyer, military defense attorney
Friday’s testimony offered a stark contrast.
Special Agent Matthew Marshall of the NCIS testified that Lieutenant Grayson had been friendly and cordial, that the lieutenant had no problem making statements. Marshall said they spoke for three hours, that it was an interview and not an interrogation.
Most importantly, SA Marshall testified that Lt Grayson told him that he had seen photos taken by his subordinate, SSgt Laughner, and told him to delete them. Lt Grayson said he did so because photos because it was policy. The photos had no intelligence value. Marshall testified that he did not suspect criminal behavior on the part of Lt Grayson.
SA Marshall’s statements were in stark contrast to testimony from an Army investigator, Colonel Gregory Watt. It is Lt Grayson’s alleged prevarications with Col Watt that brought the lieutenant to this court martial.
Colonel Watt arrived in Iraq in February 17, 2006 roughly a month before NCIS and a month before the publication of the first Haditha story in Time magazine. Col Watt had been prepped for his assignment with a copy of a letter from Tim McGirk that outlined allegations of murder in Haditha and the propaganda video that was shot of the ambush’s aftermath.
Lt Grayson’s problems began when he refused to sign a form before being interrogated by Col Watt. As an intelligence officer, Lt Grayson explained that he could not do so without authorization (Al Qaeda has bounties on the heads of the HET operators, so they are never allowed to sign their names to anything that identifies them ). This got the colonel and lieutenant off to a bad start.
During the interview, Lt Grayson told Col Watt there were no intelligence photos of the incident in Haditha without specifying that the photos, ruled as having no intelligence value, had been deleted. Later during the one-hour interview, however, Lt Grayson did tell Col Watt that some photographs taken at the scene had been deleted. Based on this, Col Watt reported back to prosecutors that he believed Lt Grayson had not been cooperative or truthful. That led to the lieutenant being charged on December 21, 2006.
The prosecution faces a difficult task in proving that Lt Grayson deliberately withheld information. At one point during the day on Friday, Col Watt was asked, “Did you ever specifically ask Lt Grayson to provide photographs?” Col Watt’s answer was no.
Strangely enough, there has never been shortage of photographs taken in Haditha. Col Watt also testified that none of the Marines who took photographs that day (and there were at least five photographers: Laughner, Briones, Wright, Sanchez, and even Dela Cruz) volunteered photographs to him during their questioning.
Col Watt is the prosecution’s star witness in case that, to this observer at least, is becoming more bizarre by the day.
During questioning, Col Watt admitted that he is currently under investigation for misconduct over an improper relationship with a subordinate. Allegedly, Col Watt’s executive office, a Major Schmidt, discovered some eight thousand text messages that had been sent over a three-month period. When Major Schmidt pursued an investigation, Col Watt allegedly threatened his life.
Col Watt denies everything.
Prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Paul Atterbury probably wondered why this kind of thing keeps happening with his star witnesses. During the Article 32 hearings, Dela Cruz and Mendoza ran into major credibility issues as well though for different reasons.
Also on Friday, the prosecution presented its case against Lt Grayson for fraudulent separation from the Marine Corps.
Lt Grayson’s former commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Gillan of the 2nd Intel Battalion, was asked why he signed Lt Grayson’s discharge. LtCol Gillan responded that Lt Grayson was not on legal hold.
A senior member of the panel submitted a question: Senior “Did anyone direct Lt Grayson not to check out until all legal matters were settled?”
LtCol Gillan said no.
Court is now in recess until Monday when the prosecution is expected to wrap up its case. The defense is expected to start on Tuesday, the day the trial was initially projected to conclude. At the end of the day on Friday, eight witnesses out of 34 had appeared.
As a side note, it was striking to some how different an Article 32 hearing is from a court martial. One likened an Article 32 to the Wild West and a court martial to civilization. The judge is a no-nonsense major. At one point, he admonished Col Watt for making a show of shaking his head during legal objections to his testimony.
In a courtroom shocker, military judge Major Brian Kasprzyk dismissed one of four charges pending against Lt. Andrew Grayson. The charge dismissed is obstructing justice. It carried a maximum punishment of dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for 5 years.
Three charges still stand against the lieutenant: two charges of making a false official statement and one charge of attempting to fraudulently leave the Marine Corps.
Major Kasprzyk dropped the charge because the investigation Grayson is accused of trying to thwart was not a criminal probe at that time
In the courtroom today, we finally learned the details behind Lieutenant Andrew Grayson’s alleged fraudulent attempt to leave the Marine Corps.
The key witness was Lt Grayson’s first military-appointed lawyer, Major (now lieutenant colonel) Kevin Woodard. He advised Grayson throughout his separation process.
On the witness stand, Woodard was asked, “What did you do when you found out that Lt Grayson was not on legal hold?
The reply was “nothing”. Woodard checked with his superiors and was told that neither he nor Lt Grayson were under any ethical or legal obligation to inform the government that it had made an error by not placing the lieutenant on legal hold, which would have halted the separation process.
In Woodard’s view, the government had screwed up and he couldn’t believe the government had made that kind of mistake. He told Lt Grayson to be honest in the separation process, to never use his rank to influence the process, and that he had no obligation to tell anyone that there were charges hanging over him.
Lt Grayson checked with Woodard a final time before picking up his DD214 and was told to proceed.
Mary Pruneda, retired, staff NCOIC in personnel department. She issued a DD215 to Lt. Grayson that voided the DD214. She said the DD214 had been issued in error and there was no other way to correct the government’s mistake.
Linda Heeren in Quantico, section head of separations and retirement, testified that she never heard of a DD215 voiding a DD214. She has had a job for 20 years dealing with separations.
Panel members heard numerous testimony today that Lt Grayson has served his country with the utmost distinction.
The most moving testimony came fromMajor Samuel H. Carrasco, operations officer for the Third Battalion. He testified that Lt Grayson’s extraordinary work as an intelligence officer saved Major Carrasco the painful task of writing hundreds of families that their child had been killed in action.
Maj Carrasco also testified that the Watt Investigation was not presented as a criminal probe, but was informal and disjointed. He also testified that the town council meeting (during which complaints were raised by the Haditha incident) included insurgent sympathizers and outright members of al Qaeda.
Special Agent Jason Shorey, NCIS. Interviewed Laughner and testified that some of the statements in Laughner’s statement didn’t add up. Also that, after examining Laughner’s computer, it was discovered he was using his personal media for classified work. In contrast to Laughner’s “concerns” about the commission of a crime in Haditha, he never wrote a DIRR about Nov 19 nor did he ever attach photos to a report.
Special Agent Patrick Lim, NCIS. Through an examination of SSgt Justin Laughner’s computer, he corroborated Lt Grayson’s claim that he had never been shown the photographs as Laughner had claimed. SA Lim was able to be discover the dates the files had been accessed, and none matched the dates that Laughner claimed he had shown the photographs to Lt Grayson.
Col Mark Smith. Lt Graysons first commanding officer in Iraq. Testified that their unit was given an extremely dangerous, difficult assignment. Lt Grayson was always spot-on in analysis. That he possessed exceptional character.
Lt Grayson’s commander in Africa before he was charged. (Didn’t get the name of the colonel.) Testified that Lt Grayson did mission plannings, conducted investigations. That he was extremely professional and performed with great integrity and with concern for the men under him.
Master Sgt Jason Daniels. The master sergeant has been in the Marines for 15 years, in Iraq four times (including Fallujah). He is an intelligence specialist. Took the witness stand with his arm in a cast–looking a little like Sgt Rock.
MSgt Daniels testified that it was three or four days after Nov 19 that he debriefed Laughner. Grayson wasn’t there. Testified that photos only have intelligence value if they are of an insurgent of interest. Testified that all members were trained in the photo policy. No photos of dead bodies are to be kept.
Daniels was asked about Lt Grayson. He replied, “I trust with him all I got, sir.”
MSgt Daniels was challenged aggressively by the prosecution about the importance of the incident in Haditha–that surely he should have kept the photographs. MSgt Daniels said the incident wasn’t special: it was just another day.
Major Dan Whisnant, a commander with 20 years in intelligence. Testified that Lt Grayson is a great Marine officer. Very intuitive, always truthful with, always respectful.
Capt Dubrule. Testified that out of the twenty-five lieutenants he’s been assigned, Lt Grayson was one of the best he ever had.